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206                                                                                                                     B  POLEVOI
cow, and pictured to themselves the inferno that must be
raging there.
And now, roaming through war-time Moscow, Mere-
syev sought the traces of air raids, but failed to find any.
The asphalted roads were smooth, the buildings stood in
serried ranks. Even the windows, criss-crossed with strips
of paper, were, with few exceptions, intact. But the fighting
line was near, and this could be seen from the care-worn
faces of the inhabitants, half of whom were soldiers in
dusty top-boots, tunics sticking to their shoulders from
sweat, and with knapsacks on their backs. A long column
of dusty lorries with dented mudguards and shattered
wind-screens burst out of a lane into the sunlit main street.
The soldiers in the battered lorries, their capes flying in
the wind, looked around them with curiosity. The column
moved on, overtaking trolley-buses, automobiles and
trams, a living reminder that the enemy was not far away.
Meresyev followed the column with longing eyes, thinking:
if he could jump into one of those dusty lorries he would
be at the front, at his own airfield, by evening! He pictured
to himself the dugout which he had shared with Degtya-
renko, the trestle beds made of fir logs, the pungent smell
of tar, pine and of petrol in the primitive lamp made from
a flattened cartridge, the roar of engines being warmed
up in the morning, and the sound of the swaying pine-
trees overhead that never ceased day or night. To him
that dugout seemed to be a real, quiet, cosy home! If only
he could get there soon, to that bog which the airmen
cursed because of the dampness, the soggy ground and
the ceaseless buzzing of mosquitoes!
With difficulty, he dragged his feet to the Pushkin
Monument. On the way, he stopped to rest several
times, leaning on his stick with both hands and pretend-
ing to examine some trifling articles in shop windows.
With a sigh of relief he sat down, or rather dropped,
on to a green, sun-warmed seat near the monument and
stretched his legs, which ached and burned from the straps
of his artificial feet. Tired as he was, the joyous feeling
did not leave him. That bright sunny day was wonderful!
The sky over the statue on the roof of the building on the
corner of the street seemed infinite. A gentle breeze carried
the fresh, sweet smell of the lime-trees along the boule-